Perhaps even before George Lucas informed the movie
industry that there is life after film, Issac Alexander and Marisa
Cohen were in the planning stages of HDFEST-the world’s first festival
dedicated solely to the exhibition of high definition products.
After co-producing and directing the Chicago-shot HD feature Inside
Out and Backwards, the pair decided to help educate the rest
of the industry on the benefits of shooting in high definition.
Inviting projects of all sorts-features, shorts, documentaries,
television programs and music videos-Alexander and Cohen opened
the doors to a new technology to the Windy City with the first annual
HDFEST in the fall of 2001. Just recently, they’ve brought their
festival westward: the second HDFEST installment took place on May
25-May 26, 2001 in Los Angeles. In a this recent interview with MM, Issac Alexander talks about the industry’s HD perception,
the festival’s plans for the future, and the importance of “future
proofing” your products.
Jennifer Wood (MM): How did you first
become acquainted with HD, and what made you decide to create a
festival dedicated solely to this technology?
Issac Alexander (IA): Marisa and I directed
and produced the first HD feature in the Midwest, and once we got
our hands on the technology, we were hooked-which is something we
hear from most of the filmmakers we speak with. Once they get their
hands on HD, they love working with it and often want to work with
When we started looking at festivals, even ones that
were digital in their orientation, they didn’t really even have
a checkbox for HD. So it was sort of a no brainer that there was
obviously a void where HD is concerned. HD really is quite superior
to digital video and digi-Beta and Beta SP and the whole gamut,
so we thought it was sort of unfortunate that there was nowhere
for people who had shot something in HD to actually screen their
MM: In addition to providing a home
for moviemakers with HD projects, does your festival seek to educate
the larger public on the technology?
IA: That’s exactly what we’re doing-and that’s
why we have so many educational seminars planned. In our Chicago
event there was a large industry present, but there were also a
lot of your average joe consumers, people who had never been exposed
to HD before. There were an awful lot of people who walked in thinking
that what they were going to be slightly better than digital video
or their home camcorder, and they were pretty blown away. It was
the first experience that a lot of the people had with HD and the
filmmakers that were at the event-a lot of whom were working in
16, some in 35 and a lot in DV. Most of those people very surprised,
as well. The DV filmmakers especially were almost shocked by the
difference in quality. A lot of them are under the understanding
that HD is slightly better than DV-they’re not really ready for
what twice the resolution looks like. So I think we’re going to
see some converts already out of the Chicago event, and I’m kind
of expecting we’ll get at least a few from the LA event. We’ll get
people at least interested in seeing HD as what it is-another tool
in the toolkit-and exploring that.
MM: Can you talk a bit more about
the first HDFEST in Chicago, and what that event was like?
IA: It really was spectacular. We had over
1,000 attendees, and the variety of projects was amazing. We had
everything from high-end science fiction to more modestly budgeted
indies. The reaction from filmmakers and industry people was very
analytical-they were really studying things closely because many
of them had not seen a lot of HD projected on screen, so a lot of
their focus and attention was technical in its nature. The general
public seemed very enthusiastic. A lot of them were literally saying
“I’ve never seen anything like this! The colors are so vivid, it’s
amazing!” As we moved through the crowds we heard so many people
really being wowed by it. It seemed to spark a lot of interest in
MM: What made you decide to move
the event to LA for its second incarnation?
IA: To have it in LA is really what made the
most sense. That’s where the industry is, that’s where a great many
of the projects that were in the festival originated. It seemed
a natural extension of the concept. And we planned it, almost from
its inception, to start in Chicago and move out to LA in its second
year. The LA event is going to be more industry-focused, as it’s
turning out. There’s going to be more industry people, which is
to be expected to some extent because it’s LA.
MM: And where will HDFEST go from
IA: We’ll certainly be doing another HDFEST,
we just haven’t made the announcement of where that will be. Right
now we’re planning on making it an annual event, but we’re also
discussing with various people the idea of going on tour with it.
We’d like to see this on the road at some point.
MM: Well, it’s definitely a technology
that people all over the world want to know more about.
IA: My experience has been that 80 percent
of the time, when filmmakers get a hold of HD, they’re really eager
to work with it again. And that’s even more so with the filmmakers
that I know who have worked with 24p-they really seem to be sold.
From the ones I’ve spoken with, I’d say 90 percent, if not more,
will use it again. The word “empowering” is overused to the point
of being cliché, but for independent filmmakers, high definition
technology is quite empowering.
MM: What is the one thing you would
say to the film purists out there about high definition?
IA: Give it a shot! Don’t let your preconceived
notions and the things you’ve heard dissuade you. There are a lot
of film purists out there, and there’s nothing wrong with shooting
film-film is great! But HD needs to be seen as another tool in the
toolkit. If you swore off using the hammer because you’re only using
wrenches, that would be kind of silly. So explore it and see if
you like it. Make a short and see what you think.
For more information on HDFEST, check
out their website at www.hdfest.com.